What are the visa options for international founders? – TechCrunch

Startup Stories


Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch + members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

I started a startup in Pakistan with a couple of co-founders a few years ago. One of the co-founders and I want to move to the United States to access the market.

What are our visa options? Thanks in advance for your help!

– Purposeful in Pakistan

Dear Purposeful,

Congrats on making the decision to grow your business in the United States!

Before I dive into the visa options, I want to note that it’s important to set up your company so that it can successfully sponsor you and your co-founder, and other hires for visas and green cards while also attracting investors. I recommend you consult an immigration attorney and a corporate attorney for assistance.

In addition, many companies help founders both in the United States or abroad incorporate their business in the US, open a business bank account there, and coordinate handling legal paperwork and other tasks.

Your and your co-founder’s visa options will largely depend on:

  • The ownership structure of your US business.
  • How much will be invested to establish your US business.
  • Your abilities and experience.
  • The success you and your company have achieved or are anticipated to achieve.
  • Who needs to come to the US and what activities they will need to do while in the country.
  • Your timeframe.
  • Your ongoing international travel needs.

Moreover, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • All work visas, which allow you and your co-founder to live and work temporarily in the United States, will require your startup or an agent to petition for you and your co-founder.
  • Some work visas will require your startup to demonstrate that you and your co-founder are like any other employee at your startup, meaning that you are supervised by someone who also has the ability to fire you and your co-founder, and neither you nor your co-founder owns a controlling stake in the startup. This is known as an employer-employee relationship.
  • You may be waiting several months before you can get to the United States. While the US Embassy in Islamabad and the Consulate General in Karachi have resumed processing work visas and have the authority to waive visa interviews, they can only waive interviews if the visa candidate has previously applied for a visa. Currently, the wait time to get an interview is several months. (There are some consulates that still have multiyear wait times.)

Here are the work visas that my firm most often considers for startup founders:

O-1 visa

The O-1A extraordinary ability visa is aimed at individuals who have achieved national or international acclaim and are at the top of their field.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

To qualify for an O-1A visa, your startup must be established in the United States and must demonstrate that an employer-employee relationship exists between you and the startup, or you must identify an alternative agent for sponsorship purposes. An individual must meet three out of eight criteria, some of which include:


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